Bringing People Together Through Storytelling
By Sarah Hodges
Luke Assenmacher did the unthinkable. Many years ago, when he was feeling the undeniable call for a career change, Luke took a leap of faith into an entirely new field. What makes this story so inspirational is that Luke didn’t wait to gain all the training, credentials, and schooling that many of us deliberate over before we shift our careers. He plunged headfirst, launching his own filmmaking company without having ever created a full-length video of his own. Yet, something within him knew that he had all the tools he needed to become a superb filmmaker. We’re glad he did since he was the filmmaker for our new “Move with Us” video. Now we want to tell a bit of HIS story, especially with refugees.
Luke’s courageous career choice has brought him opportunities to film many remarkable stories, such as stories of trafficked, refugee, and immigrant farmers on O‘ahu. One of his most fulfilling experiences as a filmmaker thus far has been his work in collaboration with the Pacific Gateway Center and Chef Hui. Through this series, Luke talked with farmers from Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, Philippines, and Tonga about their life journeys and their mission with farming on O‘ahu.
Trafficked refugee farmers started their family farms in Kunia, on O‘ahu as early as 2012 and are now producing fresh produce – cucumbers, varieties of tomatoes, squash, and beans, eggplant, okra, Thai chili peppers, avocado, and bananas. The farms cover over 200 acres and over 40 immigrant farmers on different plots.
“Filming the farms in Kunia was such a worthwhile project,” Luke recalls. “The farmers shared an educational segment about cooking, as well as their life stories. Some of the farmers came from generations of farmers in their home country and I could hear the pride in their voices beaming out as they carried forward their family’s farming legacy.” The goal of the Kitchen series was to share these farmers’ cultures through the foods that they cook.
“I especially remember the last episode, Episode 5,” says Luke. “The farmers’ philosophy on farming really stood out to me.” He filmed the story of two farmers from Myanmar, Saw Thinn and Aung Naing (Mike) Htoo of Migalar Farms, both from Myanmar who met on Oahu. The episode opens with farmer Saw Thinn from Myanmar, saying “Don’t be upset.” Saw explains how farming is a process of listening and adjusting. If something doesn’t work or doesn’t grow well, she doesn’t get upset. Instead, she approaches the challenges with curiosity and sees them as an opportunity to grow and learn more about our incredible earth.
Saw and her friend Mike were two of the first farmers at the Pacific Gateway farms in Kunia. Afraid of being arrested, Mike had fled his Myanmar home in the 1980s uprising and lived as a refugee in Thailand before immigrating to the United States. Saw was a teacher before being a farmer. She traveled, worked for UNICEF, came to Hawaii several times on student visas, then finally immigrated back to Hawaii in 2015. Eager to begin something new, she lept to the opportunity from Pacific Gateway Center to start a farm in Kunia. She and Mike met on O‘ahu despite both having come from Myanmar. The mission of farming and growing food for O‘ahu has brought them together. Saw thinks a lot about her home country, and how important food is in the culture. Luke loved conveying that story.
Luke isn’t shy about new experiences. Sometimes the adventure takes him far from close friends and family and sets him on his own solo course for a time. Coming from a small town in Iowa, Luke took a break from college to teach English abroad in Dongguan, China. There, he met the company Sainstore Inc., where he interned the following summer. He then gained a full-time position with the company helping with online sales for the following six years. Though he appreciated the work opportunity, he did not feel fulfilled in the job. However, it provided him with an unexpected window into another world of possibility.
“I was a general manager at Sainstore Inc., hiring videographers for various campaign shoots. I came to admire those guys so much in how they communicated the story of the products. I watched how they worked on our project and then freely moved on to something completely different.” A vision sparked within Luke. He began imagining having his own production company, offering video production to tell meaningful stories, connecting with an endless variety of people through this medium. And then he went for that vision. “I got bored at all my other jobs and saw my friends getting tired of their jobs. I didn’t want to have any boring days,” says Luke.
Luke left China and took a few years to travel, using his camera to document stories he encountered on his wanderings. Then seven years ago he decided he needed a home base. His choice to move to Hawai’i where his brother lives made a pivotal difference in their familial bond. He felt the importance of the opportunity to deepen their relationship. From that base, he officially began his filmmaking company.
“I have no regrets about my career choice. Some days are challenging but I also get to meet really amazing people and immerse myself in communities that I never would have been exposed to otherwise,” Luke shares. As an adventurer, an avid outdoorsman, and a lover of community connection, Luke finds himself drawn to the culture and natural beauty of Hawai’i. It enhances Luke’s sense of purpose in his work, reminding him to keep creating authentically. While not every day is smooth sailing, the rewards of this dynamic, interconnected life that Luke is creating for himself is worth every ounce of effort.
Luke’s adventurous and positive spirit touches each of us whose story he tells. His artistic vision brings people together. We admire his courage to strive for what truly feels fulfilling, fun, and creative. We’re glad that our Artistic Director and Operations Manager Neela Vadivel connected Still & Moving Center with Luke for our recent video. We’re delighted with the story that Luke helped us to tell!
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This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)